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May PANCHUK Professor, Associate Director, Institute of Ethnic and Political Studies, Ukrainian National Academy of Sciences, Doctor of History

Regional Specifics and Ethnocultural Unity

The loss of statehood or, due to various circumstances, the annexation of parts of the ethnographic territory of one ethnic group by another ethnic groups state, which is less than attentive to the history, culture, language, art, ethnic particularity, and traditional mode of life of the incorporated group, leads to deformities or deep changes in the latters national consciousness. In such case the renewal of historical memory of the ethnic group or of its hitherto alienated branches due to a change in the political situation (political independence, legal status, etc.) or under the influence of activist national intellectual elites results in the revival of national values through a transformation of the legacy of centuries of action by real economic and political forces. This process occurs in various ways, often assuming the character of deep internal confrontation. Suffice it to recall the constant schisms within national movements during the First World War, i.e., when a large number of new independent states were put on the map. Such phenomena are to be expected, for the issue is one of the active search for concrete expressions of ethnicity. And far from unique are cases where this is done not in the interests of the given nation but out of political ambitions.

Without doubt such a perspective is useful in considering the problem of Rusynism.

Among the ancient Slavs ethnocreative processes were governed by the political union of East Slavic tribes under the name of Kyiv Rus, which was one of the most powerful states in Europe from the ninth to twelfth centuries. The ethnic differentiation of the population of this state (ethnonyms: ruski, rusychi, rusyny) led to the formation in the seventeenth century of a Ukrainian people conscious of its ethnocultural unity. During succeeding centuries in parallel with the ethnonym "Ukrainian" the ethnonym "Rusyn" arose as its synonym. Simultaneously, the two terms were not seldom opposed to each other. For a long time this problem has served as a point of departure for scholarly discussions, the results of which were often used by political forces of various countries and orientations to serve their narrowly pragmatic ends. And the primary cause of these scholarly and political collisions was not the problem of defining the ethnonym "Rusyn" and its relationship to the ethnonym "Ukrainian," but the geographic location of a region where the authochtonous population were Rusyns and to which various states at various times have laid claim. Over the centuries the Ottoman Empire, Crimean Khanate, Moldavia, Russia, Hungary and Austria-Hungary, Rumania, Poland, and Czechoslovakia have all held lesser or greater parts of it. Its population suffered strong assimilatory and colonialist pressure which may be considered tragic. From an examination of all these vicissitudes of history and the influence which they exerted on the delineation of the Ukrainian ethnos as a whole one cannot fail to recognize that both the manifestations of these influences and the regional specifics of the ethnic groups life activity even now continue to act on traditional folk culture, the characteristic traits of their externality, and their linguistic-dialectical particularities. Such differences are in no way unique or inherent to the Ukrainian people alone. The inhabitants of, for example, Bavaria think of themselves simultaneously as Germans and Bavarians. Deep differences exist even in the very nature of the language, not to mention the differences in the customs of the residents of Acquitaine and Gascony from those of Parisian suburbs. But all the same, no one disputes their common belonging to the French nation.

In Ukraine the peculiarities and folk cultural differences of local ethnic groups of Ukrainians is in significant measure conditioned, in addition to factors of nature and geography, by the influences of neighboring ethnic entities Russians, Belarusians, Poles, Rumanians, Slovaks, Hungarians, Czechs, Moldovans the interaction with which through the centuries has left its mark on traditional Ukrainian culture. Simultaneously, the concepts of "Ukraine" and "Ukrainians" have been embraced as ethnic toponyms by the vast majority of the people. The bearers of local ethnonyms (Podilians, Galicians, Volhynians, Slobodzhanians, etc.) never opposed themselves to the general name of the people and country. And the Rusyns of Transcarpathia also came to the same understanding of natural historico-geographical processes in the twentieth century.

The coalescence of the Ukrainian people, fostered by the unification of the separate parts of its ethnically differentiated lands, governed the process by which the names of individual regions (Little Russia, New Russia, Eastern Galicia, Little Poland, etc.) were gradually supplanted by the common name, Ukraine. And this certainly did not occur automatically but came about as a result of heated polemics, of scholarly and political discussions between the advocates of Ukrainian unity and their opponents. It is also completely logical that in Transcarpathia as well the semi-administrative names of Hungarian Rus, Subcarpathian Rus, and Rus Country have gradually given way to the ethnic name of the area, Transcarpathian Ukraine.

Inaccuracy and Understatement

Of course, it is difficult to sum up the of ethnological excursion into the Ukrainian national past that has without exception divided students of Transcarpathian history. However, it is indisputable that today all truly scholarly arguments for and against the Ukrainian identity of Transcarpathia have been set out and discussed. The advocates of Rusyn separateness are also well aware of both the facts and conclusions of long-enduring discussions of the issue. They are also known to Paul Magosci, author of the fundamental English-language work, The Formation of a National Identity: Subcarpathian Rus, 1948-1948, an authorized Ukrainian translation of which was published in Uzhorod in 1994. In it events and processes are treated in their broad historical and ethnographic context, and the author seriously analyzes the issues in dispute. One may read this book, as Ivan Pop, former director of the Institute of Carpathian Studies, counsels in his introduction, without external interpolation, were it not for its somewhat muddled accents, chronological inaccuracies, and the authors prejudices concerning the motives behind the actions of various political forces and their leaders, active in Transcarpathia and beyond. Magosci is also the author of a map delineating the borders of the Carpatho-Rusyn Fatherland, which he appended to the texts of papers delivered at international conferences in 1991-1992. Included are the various parts of Poland, Slovakia, Rumania, and Ukraine inhabited by Hutsuls, Lemkos, and Boikos, ethnic groups within the Ukrainian people who long since have adopted the ethnonym "Ukrainian," thereby affirming the ethnocultural unity of the Ukrainian people. And if the map fixes the status of an ethnic "load" in the center of Europe in 1910 (the base year from which figures were taken to correlate with the map of the Carpatho-Rusyn population), this is a political load of an undoubtedly demonstrative character the making manifest of a country to which all Rusyns ought to be drawn.

Precise Numbers are Unknown...

The ideologists of contemporary neo-Rusynism are very fond of all sorts of statistical calculations. At the very beginning of Magoscis article we read: "In theory, the number of Rusyns could be as high as 1.2 million people." The author calculates this on the basis of 977,000 Rusyns of Transcarpathia (not nearly a million and not over 970,000, but precisely 977,000), 130,000 in Slovakia, 80,000 in Poland, and 30,000 in the Voevodina and Croatia.

Let us ignore the 17,000 people (after adding up the above figures) who seem to have got lost as did a certain number of Ukrainians (Ruthenians or Rusyns) in Rumania, although the map includes that section of Rumania. In any case, what is most important is that Magosci recognizes that traditionally the East Slavic population of the Carpathians called themselves Rusyns or Rusniaks... That is, just as did the population of other regions of Ukraine before they adopted the ethnonym Ukrainians. In Transcarpathia in documents as old as the thirteenth century these populations also had fixed for themselves the ethnonyms ruskyi, rusyn Ruskavtsi, Ruska, Velykyi Ruskov, Matyi Ruskov, etc. Thus, theoretically from the standpoint of the ethnogenesis of the Ukrainian people, one would have to add to the Rusyns 37.4 million Ukrainians in Ukraine, four or five million in the eastern diaspora, and over seven million in the West. Thus, one may calculate the Rusyns at no less than fifty million people. Such a calculation, using Prof. Magoscis "theoretical" assumptions, would seem to cancel out his map of the Carpatho-Rusyn country, the core of which is supposed to be Subcarpathian Rus.

Prof. Magosci announces, "Our concern here will be primarily with the present-day Rusyn movement or with that portion of the group (the precise numbers are unknown) that considers Rusyns to comprise a distinct people."

"Precise figures are unknown." Really? At the end of 1993 the number of persons claiming Rusyn nationality was 55; at the end of 1994 they had grown to 96. In any case, these were the figures given at scholarly-practical conferences held in Uzhorod in December of 1993 and 1994.

Prof. Magosci cannot help but know about the decision of the regional Council of Peoples Deputies adopted in 1992 that on the basis of the Ukrainian law "On National Minorities" every resident has the right without any coercion whatsoever to decide what he is Ukrainian or Rusyn. Meanwhile, oblivious to these figures, in May 1993 a "Provisional Government of Subcarpathian Rus" announced its existence. The members of this government (I. Turianytsia, T. Ondyk, and "V. Sochka-Borzhavin) were quite aware of which part of the countrys population they represented.

Hostages to a Political Game

It is not worthwhile to overestimate the quantity of indicators. We have to conclude that, first, the issue is about a segment of the Ukrainian people, whose process of gaining national self-awareness was most drawn out and complex, that here in Transcarpathia local specificity and the cultural imprinting of other national groups in household usage and fork architecture, in clothes and diet, in industry and handicrafts, in folklore, and in the spoken language are especially vivid. The desire of local people to preserve their household, cultural, and religious uniqueness is wholly understandable. Secondly, the process of the Ukrainian nations coalescence into one of the most numerous in Europe is not complete even now. This is conditioned primarily by the nations age-old statelessness. The Ukrainian Peoples Republic (UNR), West Ukrainian Peoples Republic (ZUNR), and Carpatho-Ukraine generalized the ideas of Ukrainian national-political unity, but they were liquidated as a result of external military interventions. The Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (UkSSR) from the moment of its "voluntary" accession into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics gradually lost the functions of a Ukrainian nation state. And certainly it would be logical to admit that the very annexation by the UkSSR of Western lands, the population of which under neighboring governments were "permitted" to be Ruthenians, Rusniaks, anything but Ukrainians, guaranteed the continuity and attraction of Ukrainianness along with its revival under new historical circumstances.

Thirdly, we must also consider that Ukraine is, in the words of I. Prizel, a land which knew neither a revolution which might have united its citizens in a burst of national enthusiasm nor a charismatic leader like George Washington or Mahatma Ghandi, who could captivate the people with ideas of state building. It is no accident that already after our declaration of independence forces oriented toward a "single CIS economic space", "ruble zone", and actually for the gradual transformation of the CIS into a new Union, federation, or confederation became active. Both in our country and outside its borders they are vigilantly and interestedly examining ethnopolitical processes in Ukraine. It is they who have artificially exacerbated the "East-West" divide in Ukraine and programmed the possibility of confrontation.

Political Rusynism also bears witness to this. Attempts to reanimate the Rusyn movement in the Carpathian region have the strategic aim of destabilizing the situation in Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, and other central European countries. But above all they are directed against Ukrainian independence. They want to hold hostage to a political game a part of the Ukrainian people, which in the face of all sorts of prohibitions and demands for abnegation in the first half of this century became conscious of themselves as Ukrainians.

Right to a Territory or Ideology of Separateness?

And today from the adepts of the idea of Rusyn separateness one can hear that, say, in May 1919 the Rusyns agreed with the Czechs and Slovaks to enter into a new joint state, Czechoslovakia.

Here two questions arise: 1. Who raised and answered the question? 2. What role did Kyiv and Lviv, the two centers of Ukrainian statehood, play? A partial answer may be found in Prof. Magoscis book. (l) Meanwhile, the most important circumstances remain beyond it. In 1918-1920, the Ukrainian ethnic territories (including Transcarpathia) were caught in the vortex of revolution, civil war, and the military expansion of neighboring states. The Ukrainian nation was bled white by the internecine struggles of the Central Rada, Hetmanate, and Directory, as well as by the struggle against Soviet power (UkSSR). And in reality the leaderships of UNR and ZUNR sought but failed to find a common language.

Thanks to the victors in the First World War, the Entente and the USA, the lands settled by Ukrainians were divided up among neighboring countries. Rumania received Northern Bukovina and part of Besarabia, Poland got Eastern Galicia and Volhynia, while Czechoslovakia obtained Transcarpathia. The will of the people of these territories was not taken into account.

It would be a departure from historical reality to speak of the will of Transcarpathians to unite only with Ukraine. There were very influential forces oriented toward either Hungary or Czechoslovakia. But analysis of the documents shows that the most numerous group in that area were in favor of unification with Ukraine. Even Prof. Magosci agrees with this. The general council of Rusyns/Ukrainians on January 21, 1919 in Khust, the 420 representatives at which represented 175 population points of Transcarpathia, which he calls both "the most representative body of the day" and "the most influential manifestation (our emphasis M. P.) of Ukrainophile sympathies in Subcarpathian Rus." And this moss influential manifestation led the Rusyn question to the international political arena such that the "Ruthene territory south of the Carpathians" was guaranteed "the fullest degree of self-government" by "two international treaties at the Paris Peace Conference (St.Germaine-en-Laye, September, 10, 1919 and Trianon, June 4, 1920) and by the Czechoslovak constitution (February 29, 1920)."

The Rusyn Question and the Interests of the Great Powers

The Paris Peace Conference de facto decided that Transcarpathia was small change. As a result, the process of the Lemkos, Boikos, and Hutsuls becoming conscious of their being Ukrainian was artificially retarded.

The lead role was given and appropriated by those local and emigre activists who played the role of articulators of the local aspirations before the allied powers. Not accidental was the personal activism of the leader of the American Rusyns, H. Zhatkovych. He visited Paris and Prague, met with Wilson and Masaryk, and organized a "plebiscite" in the diaspora (not Transcarpathia M. P.) which "accepted the Rusyn proposition." The American president sent a telegram to Zhatkovych expressing his satisfaction with the latters resolution of the Rusyn problem, and Subcarpathian Rus entered Czechoslovakia with this same Zhatkovych as its governor. The Rusyn leader then vaccinated his people with a new ideology. Along with the trappings of home rule (a governor, partially elected diet, national anthem, and national theater) as early as August 1920 the Czechoslovak Ministry of Internal Affairs declared a state of war in Transcarpathia. In 1921-1923 in Uzhorod alone seven Czech schools were opened but not one Ukrainian (Ruthenian). By the end of the 1920s 19,000 hectares of land had been allotted to Czech colonists. And this was at a time when 63,731 peasant households (74%) possessed under five hectares land. In fact, quite a few of the democratic provisions of the Czechoslovak constitution, especially where it stated that "Subcarpathian Rus has its own diet, which elects its own presidium," were simply not put into practice.

We shall not analyze the socio-economic situation of the region in detail. Suffice it to glance at the archives and press of the time to understand the real state of affairs: land hunger, chronic unemployment, and mass protest demonstrations leading to confrontations with the police and numerous victims. Czech was proclaimed the state language and even the words "Ukrainian", and "Ukrainian people" were banned. 70% of the population of a land (in the center of Europe!) were still illiterate at the end of the 1920s.

Emphasizing the positive aspects of the situation in the interbellum period, Prof. Magosci writes: "Finally, in late 1938, actual autonomy (our emphasis M. P.) was granted to Subcarpathian Rus (by then renamed Carpatho-Ukraine)." Actually, "autonomous" Subcarpathian Rus and "independent" Carpatho-Ukraine came about as the result of the geopolitical games of Hitler (and his allies) and of the leaders of the great powers who hoped to divert Nazi Germanys expansionist energies eastward. In this game local political associations and their leaders played the role of politically blind marionettes. The overwhelming majority of the territorys population was demoralized and estranged from the idea of deciding their fate on their own. If we may excuse the political processes of these years somewhat, we might say that the autonomy and independence of Subcarpathian Rus and Carpatho-Ukraine lasted only long enough for Horthys gratitude to "mature" to Hitler for his permission to occupy all of Transcarpathia. "I cannot express my happiness, inasmuch as this is a province wealthy in resources... which has vital significance for Hungary," thanked Hungarian dictator Admiral Horthy, "I will never forget this testament to friendship." This was the basis, and only this, on which the "actual autonomy" of Subcarpathian Rus (Carpatho-Ukraine) was created.

A Natural Process or Communization of the Rusyns?

Numerous facts concerning the Ukrainian "linguistic orientation" of the Transcarpathians bear witness to their belonging to the Ukrainian nation. Suffice it to mention that in 1937 in their "Manifesto to the Ukrainian People of Transcarpathia" over twenty political parties and associations along with numerous newspapers and magazines signed on to the demand that children be taught in Ukrainian. This was also evident from a plebiscite held that same year under the auspices of the Czechoslovak Ministry of Education. And the first session of the Carpatho-Ukrainian Diet on March 15, 1939 declared: "The state language of Carpatho-Ukraine is Ukrainian. "(2)

Thus, at that very moment, alongside expressions of Russophilia, Magyarophilia, etc., the pro-Ukrainian orientation as the natural manifestation of the process of the coming to national self-awareness of the Transcarpathian Ukrainians-Rusyns became predominant. The issue was one of a stateless people, divided up among neighboring peoples, the policies of which were identical Russification, Rumanization, Magarization, and Czechization.

At that timee there was no force or liberaldemocratic organization on the international political seen which supported the Ukrainians right to unite. That slogan was put forth at the summer 1924 Fifth Congress of the Comintern. I am no apologist of the communist movement and Comintern, but I cannot dispute the fact that the realization of this program was objectively in the interests of the Ukrainian people.

In the 1920s and thirties the Communists in Transcarpathia were quite an influential force. In the 1924 Czechoslovak parliamentary elections they received almost 40% of the vote, substantially more than any of the other twelve parties which participated in the election. Also indisputable was the Communist victory in the 1935 elections. The local Communists, as in Galicia and Bukovina, defended the national communist position that all Ukrainian territories should be united with Soviet Ukraine. But their expectations that the Ukrainian people could develop freely within the UkSSR (USSR) were, to say the least misguided.

In Transcarpathia the idea of the unity of all Ukrainians was embraced not only by Communists, but also in various measures by the Social Democrats, Christian Peoples Party, Prosvita, and other associations. The affirmation of this idea among the Transcarpathians was the result of their natural process of coming to national self-awareness, and to connect it with the establishment of a Communist regime would be incorrect.

On the contrary, the incomplete process of the Transcarpathians embracing a Ukrainian identity was deformed from the very first months of the Communist regime. This was caused by artificial bureaucratic haste, the brutal liquidation of the Greek Catholic Church, repressions directed against the proUkrainian intelligentsia, the work of "internationalistically" oriented activists, and suchlike. The Transcarpathians, the majority of whom only in the late 1930s became conscious of themselves being Ukrainians, among whom during the decisive years of the Second World War arose a mass movement for union with the rest of the Ukrainian people as shown by the regions First Congress of Peoples Committees, were incorporated in 1945 not into Ukraine as a state, for de facto there was no Ukrainian state, but into the Soviet Union.

Under the USSRs policy of Russification, carried out under the false banners of internationalism and the forming of a "new historical community, the Soviet people," the Ukrainians of Transcarpathia were least able to defend themselves from the total assault on their national identity.

Under independent Ukraine various attempts to revive the Rusyn movement have arisen. This is due to a number of factors.

First, the ruling structures and, above all, political and social groups hoped to consolidate a still uncertain independence by means of uniting on the basis of state building citizens of all nationalities. Real national cultural revivals began among national minorities. Simultaneously, the degree of coalescence of the Ukrainian nation was viewed with unrealistic optimism, and the specificities of various regions like Transcarpathia were not taken into sufficient account. Attempts by the political leadership to force events and impose Ukrainiphilia as a state ideology were used by ambitious local leaders to provoke a confrontation with the official course.

Secondly, the fall of Communist regimes in neighboring Poland, Rumania, Hungary, and ex-Czechoslovakia revived the problem of national interests and state borders.

Thirdly, the revival of the Rusyn movement in Transcarpathia was fostered by the problem of Carpatho-Rusynism being discussed at a number of international symposia and in the press in Canada, Hungary, Slovakia, and Russia.

The future will reveal the motives of the initiators of these actions and authors of these articles: whether it is scholarly truth, concern for the welfare of the Rusyn/Ukrainians, or something else. But the question already arises: why does this Rusyn movement, which has revived in all countries where Ukrainian-Rusyns live, seem to correspond to some stringently controlled plan? Suffice it to look at Prof. Magoscis chronology: the Society of Subcarpathian Rusyns in Transcarpathia (February 1990), Rusyn Obroda in Medzilaborce (Czechoslovakia, March 1990), Lemko Association in Legnica (Poland, April 1990), Society of Friends of Subcarpathian Rus in Prague (October 1990), and Ruska Matka in the Vojvodina of former Yugoslavia (December 1990).

Only the Rusyn organization in Budapest, Hungary was established in May 1991. Such synchronicity in the "revival" of the Rusyn movement calls attention to itself if only because the demolition of the communist regimes in these countries was not simultaneous. The Rusyn organizations arose on the basis of Ukrainian social, cultural, and educational organizations which had long operated in neighboring countries. This is why Magoscis personal sympathies lie with the organizers of these movements. The First World Congress of Rusyns in Medzilaborce (March 1991) proclaimed itself an "interregional committee." As a result, according to Prof. Magosci, "its very existence had an enormous impact on instilling Rusyn national pride in over 300(!) persons who attended." It essentially became by international election "leaders" who "adopt and then disseminate the ideology of their people."

From the example of individual leaders of political Rusynism in Transcarpathia makes clear the actual mechanism by which the ideology of neo-Rusynism is disseminated. Consider only some of the demands of the "peoples program" of the Subcarpathian Republican Party: "1. To create an independent, neutral republic modeled on Switzerland... 2. To attain complete political and economic independence... 10. That our Rusyn people be recognized as a people among other peoples with equal rights..."

A so-called "Provisional Government of Subcarpathian Rus" is working to implement this plan. Members of this "government" together with Rusyn extremists conduct openly anti-Ukrainian propaganda, accusing Ukraines government and parliament of national fascism, of the occupation of Transcarpathia, of committing ethnocide against Rusyns "which has gained strength after Ukraines proclamation of sovereignty," and many other "sins." The "Provisional Government" has not confined its demands to economic and cultural autonomy; it demands "complete political and economic independence." They believe present offers the most auspicious conditions for this. "Ukraine is in political and economic catastrophe," states Foreign Affairs Minister of this "government" T. Ondyk, "and we shall not let this opportunity slip through our fingers."

This position corresponds with one of the stages in the program of protection for Rusyns in the future offered by Prof. Magosci. It should be carried out, he believes, by 1. the "pressure" of the international community, 2. deepening the split in Ukrainian societies in neighboring countries, and 3. creating an autonomous Republic of Subcarpathian Rus.

* * *

The Ukrainian nation is living through something less than the best of times and is trying to find a way out of deep economic crisis. Complications of an internal and external, objective and subjective nature have woven and placed before our young state a deep thicket. And the most acute problem is the impoverishment of the countrys citizenry.

Social exhaustion and disbelief in slogans and ideals are inevitable results of such a situation.

In Ukraine the situation is complicated by ethnopolitical factors. In the public consciousness alternative ethnic and political communities are connected with alternative state, political, and social systems. The Party of Slavic Unity and other such groups put forward ideas of dual citizenship and Russo-Ukrainian bilingualism in Ukraine. Analysts of this party "correct" the idea that the East Slavs consist of the Russians, Ukrainians, and Belorusians. It seems that there is a fourth and most numerous nation, "Rusyches." As was stated at the partys second congress (March 1995), this group accounts for 46% of all East Slavs.

The ethnic and political unity of Ukraine, its very independence, is under threat. To save it requires safeguarding the free socioeconomic, political, and spiritual development of the Ukrainian people and of all national communities in Ukraine. In independent Ukraines economic revival and the gradual implementation of democratic reforms lies the guarantee of the future of the Ukrainian-Rusyns of Transcarpathia along with the preservation and augmentation of their unique culture defended by the state. The realities created by history and real perspectives allow only this course of development for the area. All others, whoever might propose them and however attractive they might be, can destabilize the situation (and not just in Ukraine), ignite interethnic conflict, and deny the Transcarpathians their right as a segment of the Ukrainian people to be masters in their own land.


1. R. P. Magosci, The Making of a National Identity: Subcarpathian Rus, 1848-1948 (Cambridge, MA, 1978), pp. 55-61.

2. National Relations in Ukraine in the Twentieth Century, (Kyiv, 1994), p. 242 (in Ukrainian).

Translated by James Mace

Source: Political Thought 1995, 2-3 (6) P.232-238.

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